On the fourth day of my adventure through the Oregon wine country I headed further north to the northern end of the Willamette Valley. My first stop was at Willamette Valley Vineyard, conveniently located on top of a huge hill just off the east side of the freeway.
The Jory family, who were the previous owners, had planted the land to thin-skinned plums that they then dried and sold as prunes. In 1983 the land was sold to Jim Bernau who cleared the plum orchard and blackberry vines off of the ancient volcanic, iron-rich soil and then planted 50 acres of Pinot Noir (Pinot Noir Dijon clones 667, 777, Pommard and Wadenswil), Chardonnay (Dijon Clone Chardonnay 76 and 96 and Espiguette) and Pinot Gris.
This unique soil of this vineyard is from an ancient volcanic flow is red from its oxidized iron content and is well-drained. It is similar to the red clay soil found in the Grand Cru Pinot Noir vineyards of Romaneé-st-Vivant in Burgundy. The vineyard site rises from 500-750 feet in elevation with seven to twelve degree slopes tilted toward the sun. As a result, the vines get excellent air exposure, drainage and they are above the frost line. At this elevation and slope, the temperature is approximately ten degrees warmer than the valley floor during the day.
Behind the tasting room is a viewing deck where you can enjoy your wines while viewing the vineyards below. While visiting I did a tour of the winery that included the production area and the barrel room. I then climbed up the spiraling staircase of the viewing tower that provides a spectacular 360° view of the valley and the vineyards below. If you visit the winery, be sure to bring your camera!
While visiting I sampled the following wines:
My first pour was the 2011 Whole Cluster Pinot Noir. In the entire line-up this wine has the most pronounced aromas of pepper, followed by vibrant notes of cedar, cherries, strawberries and raspberry. On the palate is light bodied and mildly fruit forward with a lingering pepper finish. This wine sells for $22 a bottle.
The second sample was the 2009 Vintage Pinot Noir. This wine is very light ruby red with aromas of sour cherries, cedar and cigar box. On the palate it is crisp with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins and a medium forward finish. This wine sells for $30 a bottle.
The third pour was the 2009 Bernau Block Pinot Noir. This wine had more intense characteristics than the previous wines with fruit forward aromas of raspberries, blackberries and a hint of smoke with medium acidity, tannins and a lengthy medium (+) length finish. This wine sells for $45 a bottle.
The fourth wine was the 2009 Elton Pinot Noir. This wine displays a complex variety of pronounced aromas of cherries, cinnamon, a touch of anise, and cedar which combined remind me of a scented Christmas candle. On the palate the fruit and spice profile is well integrated with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins and a fairly lengthy medium (+) length finish. A really nice wine which reminds me of California’s David Bruce Estate Pinot which sells for $55, yet this one sells for only $45 a bottle.
The first four wines were good but they lacked the “WOW” factor that I was looking for and the distinctive qualities that can only be found in Oregon Pinot Noir. However, the rest of the line-up was a dramatic step up as they all had the profile that announces, “I’m from Oregon!”
The fifth pour was my favorite in the line-up, the 2009 Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir. This wine comes from vines that were planted in 1974 and the maturity of the vine is reflected in the wine. This wine is deeper ruby and garnet red than the previous wines displaying aromas of dark red fruits, black berries, a hint of caramel apple, followed by underlying notes of earth and black olive and spice. On the palate it has velvety tannins, medium (+) acidity and a lengthy finish. This wine sells for $45 and I brought one home to add to my growing Oregon Pinot collection.
My final wine of the line-up was the 2009 Estate Pinot Noir. This wine is a blend of the three previous Pinots. It was the only one in the line-up that had distinctive notes of cola, followed by hints of anise, pepper and spice. Underlying the spice are fruit aromas of cherry and wild black berry. On the palate the fruit and spice is supported by refreshing acidity (medium +), and a lengthy (medium +) finish. Another great wine, I brought one home for $45.
To see more pictures of Willamete Valley Vineyards, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:
To visit or for more information:
Willamette Valley Vineyards
8800 Enchanted Way SE
Turner, Oregon 97392